Thursday, October 2, 2008

John McCain on Spain

I want to bring to the attention of GUBU readers a minor enough incident that occurred in the US Presidential campaign last week. What first appeared to be a serious gaff by John McCain gradually fizzled out amongst all the headline grabbing news related to the financial crisis. Basically in an interview with a Florida radio station McCain was asked if he would meet face to face with a series of Latin American leaders. He gave a rather predictable answer of " I would meet with anyone with comparable values". He was then asked if he would invite Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luiz Zapatero (Pictured) to the White House. He responded by giving an identical answer to the previous question about Castro, Chavez and co. When the interviewer clarified that she was referring to Spain he stuck to his guns. This immediately struck a cord with me. In the years since 9/11 no example of bad blood between Europe and the USA has angered me more than conservative America absurd interpretation of the events surrounding the 2004 Madrid bombings and the subsequent general election in that country. And I believe that John McCain had this in mind when he referred to Spain in his answer.

The March 2004 Madrid Bombings that claimed 191 lives

Right wing America has always mocked Spain for what they see as the Spanish electorate giving into Al Qaeda. A little background might help. Under the conservative leadership of Jose Maria Aznar Spain was probably Europe's most ardent supporters of George Bush's war on terror. In 2003 Aznar backed the invasion of Iraq and sent the second largest contingent of European troops after Britain, to fight in the war. This decision was extremely unpopular with the Spanish public. Then on March 11th 2004 a series of coordinated bombs murdered 191 people throughout Madrid's railway system. The attack occurred three days before a general election. Immediately after the attacks Prime Minister Aznar placed the blame on the Basque separatist group ETA even going so far as to instruct Spanish diplomats world wide to continue to imply that ETA was responsible even after ETA denied involvement and evidence came to light that suggested it was an Islamist group. In addition it was clear to most that the March 11th attack was on a far greater scale than anything done before by domestic Spanish terrorists and the likelihood of ETA being behind it was slim. However Aznar, who had led a crusade against ETA for decades held firm in public that the Basques were responsible. Three days later the Spanish electorate punished him for this. Zapatero's left wing government was elected and the new Prime Minister fulfilled his pre election promise to pull out all Spanish troops from Iraq.

Jose Maria Aznar Meeting President Bush at the Azores summit in 2003

This is not however how conservative America saw it. In America they ignored the fact that post Franco politics in Spain had swung between conservative and liberal governments every couple of elections and that after 8 years in power the Aznar government was deeply unpopular for a number of reasons. Some in American found it difficult to understand that a Spanish election was actually about Spanish issues. So, led by the right wing radio and TV hosts and followed by some political figures a position became popular that projected the Spanish people and its new government as weak and cowardly. The myth was spread that the Al Qaeda linked group that bombed Madrid did so in the hope that the Aznar government would be removed and that Spanish troops would ultimately be pulled out of Iraq. "Al Qaeda achieved regime change in Spain easier than we did in Iraq" and "We have lost Spain" were common headlines. The anti Spanish rhetoric basically claimed that the Spanish people were bombed into submission by Al queda and that they purposely voted in the government that they knew would remove Spanish troops from Iraq out of fear of future bombings. This is utter fiction but it is popular fiction and I have no doubt that John McCain deliberately played to this right wing populist rhetoric by lumping Prime Minister Zapatero in with Castro and Chavez and co. To do this with a democratic country like Spain, an EU and NATO ally is of course ridiculous and offensive but I have to say with genuine regret, John McCain's campaign is going increasingly in that direction.

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